Monday, September 5, 2011

If the Crap Hits the Fan, Just Make Crappy Lemonade

I'm finally breaking down and posting a matter to my blog, after months of trying to get help in making my 'corporate landowner' property owner be responsible enough to assist me in any way in dealing with a huge septic tank issue I've had over the last 4 months.

I live in a 'money pit' of a house that was referred to me by a local client [who, unless he causes me any MORE trouble, with blissfully be held nameless] was 'such a great deal', and I'd 'saved him so much money' by working for him on his office--and home--computers (literally saved him over $300 on one office job alone)--that he 'did me this big favor' and told me about 'this deal' where his youngest brother was moving 'down the street' [wha?] and that little brother's house would be available for rent, 'the very next week', for what amounts to a true 'pittance'.

This was all true, except:
  • it turned out to be a money part of it could ever have passed any kind of inspection when it was built [systemic problems all around, including electrical, septic, furnace--big stuff like that...primary stuff]...I may post some of the many instances of safety issues, money-wasting/efficiency problems, and just plain dumb stuff never maintained, here later, but suffice it to say now, that they were 'MANY', they were 'RIDICULOUS', and they were entirely avoidable before I ever moved there.
  • the guy who referred it to me also offered to handle all my initial payments...but later turned out to be impossible to reach for payment, even more impossible to get receipts from, and eventually turned out to have mishandled my payments several times over a mere four-month period this year
  • the corporate a-holes who own the place were, for the most part, even worse--after I contacted them to 'remove the middle man' (which turned out to make everyone very happy, actually), they began sending me receipts themselves only after my 2nd payment, and only after much prompting (actually, begging) on my part
  • I discovered that anyone anywhere in Kentucky below Louisville, who ends up having a 'rough relationship'  with their landlord over health issues caused by their residence had better just reach down, grab their ankles 'in a non-threatening manner', and get ready to become violated in a very petty, ridiculous, mind-bending, frustrating, childish, impish, preposterous, and stress-inducing manner.  Go ahead and call your 'treatment team' if it's your septic tank, because, well...'they live among us'
  • In dealing with our regional health department, moreover, I found that you put yourself in real jeopardy when wasting your time with these 'officials' (any local will understand me if I just say 'see Insight Communications'

Below is the entire email I'm sending (yes, after I publish this blog), to the head of the Kentucky health dept office that deals with 'consumer-end health issues' (like, septic tank issues).

Before that, I'll list here, with no allowances for any 'remarks' of any kind, what I do know [this is for the record]:
  1. Don't ever get suckered into any kind of unwritten tenancy 'agreement', even if it's 'golden'--nothing is perfect, and when that becomes evident, in any way, your landlord, no matter how 'rich', will 'leave everything to you' [meaning you'll end up fixing everything yourself while you continue paying him your monthly rent--no matter how expensive, and apparently, no matter how health-threatening the matter is, or becomes] put it briefly, 'you're screwed'.
  2. If the first condition above is true, you're even worse screwed if you get the crazy idea your city, county, or (especially) state health department is somehow 'there to help you'.  It's not--and you're not only crazy yourself if you think so, but you're also likely to be highly perceived to be delusional if you continue your 'insane rantings' (really! you're insane now!)
  3. You better hope and pray (as I'm doing this very second) that, when your 'landlord' [where the hell do they get these terms?] gets your month's rent 'minus your bill for repairs' for this septic tank issue [or put any major household systemic condition where the underline phrase is], that they're a)feeling abnormally [see your psychiatrist] generous, b)celebrating "Christmas in [x marks the 'current month here']", or getting ready to be visited by the three 'Ghosts of Christmas' (with the 'Future' one wielding some kind of weapon of some sort), because...well, you're delusional, AND your getting ready to be delusional, screwed, and evicted (I think in that order)...and after that, well who knows--maybe you'll be screwed once more if you have to commit a petty crime to find residency over the winter ('Bubbah--I do love you more than the night guard...really')
So, if you haven't gotten the context of my subject here yet, read on--here is the email I'm sending to an 'Angela Billings' in Frankfort, KY.--and I do hope you'll all forgive me for not allowing any remarks on this page--I really have been up to my ankles in shit until I called the plumber this past Friday and finally dealt with it 'my own damn self':

Mrs. Billings,
I'm sorry you wouldn't see fit to be able to hear me out Friday, when I was at my wit's end and worried about losing my residency.  You sounded like a nice person until you'd apparently heard enough from me and started telling me stuff without letting me respond in any way.
I realize I'd said a lot, but telling me to shut up over and over while you obviated your role was really petty and maddening.  You were starting to ask questions indicating you had not listened at all, to one thing I said.
You began a long, dismal speech indicating you weren't willing/going to help, so 'thanks' for telling me to 'hush', and 'shut up' time and again.  You'd already begun making statements indicating such, and calling into questions things I'd said without giving me further chance to respond to your questions one-at-a-time.
It sounded like you were regretting not having interrupted me sooner, actually.  Treating me like a child, telling me to 'hush', threatening to hang up on me (then actually doing it, and not answering your phone again)--now, that's childish.  You got paid to do it, too--wonder if you'd ever heard this: 'This is part of what's wrong with America these days'.  Don't worry--I've had to say this to my local sheriff's dept. once  before when a local officer there told me I should 'just move' in reaction to my neighbor's loud, obnoxious, put-on 'lifestyle'.
Leaving me wondering--over 10 times, I guess--if you'd already hung up on me already was disgraceful and childish, too.  This type of behavior is completely unsuited to helping anyone 'at the bottom' get any help, and I hope people like yourself either get replaced with people driven to help others, or, frankly, lose your funding and eventually end up in the same place as me.
Your complete and total lack of help, your impish mishandling of my issue, your childish slamming of the phone down on me, and your overall behavior made your point quite clear, and I want to give you the heads up that any attempts you make to reply to my email, now, or in the future, will be simply forwarded right back to your email address.
Perhaps a job at Afni would more suit your nature--it wouldn't be the first time we'd lost a bureaucrat in Kentucky; maybe you should shop around now, before you need another job (or outlet for your disgust and loathing of others).
For the record, I got similarly ineffective treatment from the local WC HD office, and so am already blocking them.  All Kentucky health dept officers seem 100% caught up in keeping their jobs and being totally ineffective in providing any real positive assistance, instead of making sure your neighbors don't get sick under mistreatment by the slumlord infestation we've been enduring for decades.
I got this impression from speaking with some of my local friends and neighbors, and even some local political offices, that this is what you do for a living--run an inept bureaucratic mess, passing out political favors that trounce on the rights of unsuspecting citizens, and get tax dollars handed to you for sitting idly by and letting our many slumlords walk all over good people.
This is yet another symptom of our current political problem here in the States--people just trying to pave the way for their dreams by starting a good foundation and paying their bills, can't even get to work while suffering in sickening conditions, as long as you're on the job.
I was sick with bronchitis for six weeks back in March due to my septic tank problem--I tried to tell you that, but you didn't care.  FYI, I have had bronchitis many times, due to a previous job delivering newspapers in the cold, but always recovered quickly with the 5-day Z-Pac treatments.  Not this time, with a moldy bathroom with untreated sewer water backing up into my house; this time, I spend six weeks between the months of March and April, trying to recover, and recently had a two-day relapse!  Thanks!
Attached are some 'juicy pics' of what my bathroom looked like during the months I waited for help from anyone in the position to do so, without any whatsoever.  I hope you're thankful this Thanksgiving that you don't have to live like myself, or the hundreds of others you've doubtless treated with identical contempt.
The health dept was my last hope, so after I was dismissed by you, I had nowhere to go but risk paying the entire fee my landlord should have, take it out of that month's rent payment, and hope they didn't add insult to injury and evict me.
So, I paid $250 to a local septic tank specialist to have the system pumped without any other outside resources or assistance (besides the helpful constant advice of the Kentucky BBB, who've been indispensable).  I wasn't surprised at all when the plumber--who I'd never met--began telling me things about this system that validated nearly every fear I'd had about it: first, the the entire system had not been installed OR even designed properly, that it almost certainly had never been inspected by anyone at all when originally installed, and that it also had likely not been pumped or maintained in almost a decade of continual use by the previous resident.
This was one of those cases where being right serves as absolutely no solace at all.  It made me angry; yet finally relieved to have the problem resolved, even if under the worst conditions, mishandled as it was by yourself, your offices, and the local health department--as well as the property owner, themselves.
So, it's no consolation, but at least I'm not sick every day, or trying to fight off the conditions that spawn black mold every time I wash my clothes.
It helps to know how right I was about so many of this system's faults, down to my suspicions over inadequate measurements of the rear PVC pipe leading to the 'wetfield'.  The local and also regional Health Dept. (certainly yourself) were so diligent to avoid responsibility, it was incredibly disheartening, discouraging, and furthered my disillusionment with our national policy-handlers.
You were the worst about wheedling over the semantics of what I was trying to say, you vilified yourself in your process of mishandling the direst environmental health issue I've ever lived with.  You were so focused on correcting my vocabulary (which turned out to be 100% true and correct, BTW), that you missed my point--and the point in general, I am sure, is that you should be doing your jobs instead of grilling callers Guantanimo-style over their wordsmithing abilities to cover up your own moral lassitude and apathy.
Instead of doing your job, you became tactfully evasive, even calling my personal character into question when you began feeling railroaded into making a genuine effort to even understand my situation.  When you're about to lose your house due to inept officials like yourself, maybe you'll understand.  But I doubt that will ever happen as long as you bureaucrats circle those wagons every time you feel defensive.
I'm through with trying to get help from my Kentucky government officials, and I'm through talking to you.  That's why I'm setting my email up to block your dissenting and (I'm sure) personally offensive emails, and send them right back to you each time you try; because 'why set myself up for disappointment, when I obviously didn't need you after all, at all'.  I'm beginning to realize how little a truly independent American needs his/her government at all, as well (that's one thing I'll be thankful for every Thanksgiving, I assure you).
I'm also blocking your calls; they'd only be a nuisance, I'm sure.
Next time, just try and do your job.  If you start with that (maybe a Post-It will help), then you can learn to be responsible and even accountable for the way you are being paid to treat others.  It's that accountability that will make or break your office's viability.  Failing that, you will just end up another line-item, unjustifiable, state expenditure.  It's sad you have to be reminded of that, seeing as how I thought I was speaking with another human being (a larger inclusive group there).
In the end, I was only able to pay half my rent because I had to pay this righteous plumber to come do his job.  But I appreciated his attention to detail and the speed with which he performed the septic tank maintenance (cleaning the line, pumping the tank, writing a proper receipt).  It turned out that he was familiar (through high school) with the previous owner of this house--and he speculated without hesitation or prompting that nobody'd ever inspected the house back when it was built in 1994.
So...good luck, stay on your local city sewer system, and pay your bills, I guess.  This is your 'kiss-off' letter--you've been total 'a-holes' to me, and completely, intentionally  ineffective in helping me in any way, shape, or form; much less helping protect my rights to live in a decent place without the threat of disease and other health threats.
As often happens, you are so concerned with the 'letter of the law' [or, in your job, 'rules and written policies', however untested] than actually upholding it or even assisting the people those laws were made to protect, that your lunch-break (whenever that is, or how many times per day) has become more important than any human being you've been paid to serve and help, so you've become yet another example of a redundant, hopelessly unresponsive, dysfunctional bureaucratic office in small-town America.  Try not to think about it while spending my tax dollars in your local Walmart, on your fine house, or making your outrageous car payments--it's the status quo of the day.
Mike Denney
physical address withheld for reasons made clear above

I hadn't just 'lucked into', and 'guessed', the things I found to be wrong with my septic tank system--I'd slaved and pored over days of internet research on various plumbers' 'self-help' sites (actually made to help people in general avoid getting the idea they should undertake septic issues themselves, and for good reason, to educate they as to 'why not').

I literally took a self-initiated crash-course in septic tanks, septic tank design, and septic tank issues, in order to make my decision 'not to' do anything myself, that is, to keep my frikking hands off the system because I knew that messing with it was more risky and potentially destructive than anything else you can do to your house.
For Blog Readers: Mere 'pictorial' cannot truly capture the stench--merely realize that any 'SciFi' movie involving 'smellavision' would truly be a horror flick of the worst genre.  Death, warmed over...served lovingly with a side of moldy bread, stanky-stank, and more death.  Mold is your enemy when you run into stuff like this...and breathing airborne  'black mold' over mere weeks can leave you with symptoms approaching mental retardation (which is NOT usually something you're not born with, BTW, so...)

The conditions I was right about, that were messed up in my system, from the day it was installed in 1994, are  are listed below:

  • The system had been installed without any downward gradient in the line from the house to the main tank, causing effluent from the house to stall midway in the line, and in fact, to sit there and eventually muck it up.  In fact, this also caused the line itself to eventually develop another problem--a downward bow in its middle, stalling the feces and other solid waste there even further.
  • The system wasn't pumped for almost a decade (possibly even never), so this 'great place' had a nasty pre-existing condition there, that really should have never been 'perpetrated on anyone' (I wouldn't my worst enemy).  You should normally have your septic tank pumped clean every 3 years, regardless of your financial condition--and, if you are sensible to have a written tenancy agreement, you'll have that in there--not be responsible for this yourself, unless your renting to own or paying off the bank.  Being deathly sick 24/7/365 with no help, costing you weeks of down-time and even more productive work leads to a downward financial and personal spiral--and showering each morning while standing in your own shit isn't too good for your outward demeanor, or lend to your 'perky charm' either.
  • The system had been installed without a big enough 'back line' going down from the main tank to the wetfield (where waste-water collects to dry), which, since the tank hadn't been pumped in so long,  caused solid waste to drift on over toward the rear of the tank, where that 'too-narrow' [2" instead of 4"] rear line was clogging up, too.  This made the system back up from the rear of the tank to the front of it, even if and when the line ever 'magicked itself' into any rare condition to drain any at all [which it didn't shortly after I succeeded in snaking myself from outside to the house a few weeks before the 'shit hit the fam' here, haha]
  • Even the 'wetfield' itself, one of the lesser-important part of the immediate drainage, and so, the system, had been put in with 'pea pebbles' to dry it.  This may have been according to specs back in 1994 when the house was built, but since then, it's, even that wasn't drying very well.  Plus, it was ridiculous, even without the 'peagrain' pebbles--it was open to the sky at either end with 8" plastic corrugated drains, at ground level, which allowed rainwater into the wetfield continually during every rain.  In fact, tonight's rain [it is] is the first that isn't going directly in to these open pipes, since I took the trouble to add some galvanized piping at either end, and covered those with home-made 'rain-hats' I fashioned from aluminum pans, screwed to the piping with small guttering screws.  In early July I had gone out and put down some 4" garden edging around the front edge of the wetfield, since all other rainwater runoff was also cascading down into that field, totally inundating it--it wouldn't dry for weeks after a small shower.  Toward the end of July I even went back there and put down some landscaping timbers behind the edging, to keep it there, and began mowing the wetfield to the quick to keep it short enough to not hold any water on its top.

Each thing I have done until the point I was forced to call a plumber, turned out to be very helpful, as I was careful not to interfere with any functional part of the 'poorly designed', 'never maintained', and so, 'barely working system' there already.

I'm writing this blog for my own personal reference, because I really do have my months' rent out in the mailbox ready to go, along with a nicer, more friendly, description of what I've had to do in calling the plumber finally myself, along with the plumbers receipt, shown at the bottom of this blog post.  My payment was half my rent, subtracting the plumber's fee, because that's what landlords are supposed to do--pay your outside septic tank maintenance costs, unless you sign otherwise, and I've been railroaded into thinking I was the 'rare case' who'd been screwed due to my own oversight--which turned out to be not my own, but  somebody else's.
And then, 'everybody else's'...
Because most of the time you just don't plan on screwing yourself financially for no reason.

'Post-post' (afterthoughts)
And I begged, too...

I'll never forget how I literally begged to get help for this from the property owner, who instead gave me some half-baked, concocted, nonsense about my missing my very first payment.  This was 'corrected' the very next day by the 'middle-man' mentioned above, who had an office worker go through his desk and find my unsent first payment.

The point--rather, the overt threat--was made very clear, though, because the corporate-assholes who currently own the property had been accepting my payments through this middle-man from February to May without any complaints prior to my calling them regarding the septic tank issue.

I'm not insane, here--hell, I'm not even naming names that matter, really (the health dept. proved that themselves).  If the owners really had questions about my very first payment, then why hadn't they just called me, or called the middle-man, to get my damn number?

It just doesn't happen that way--if you're accepting just enough (and I do mean, exactly, to the penny) in rent on a property to pay your yearly taxes on it, you don't really glaze over when you miss that very first payment.  These guys don't get their self-prescribed jobs by laying down and forgetting who is paying them, no matter how small the amount.  Heck--my rent is at least green fees at one of their favorite courses, anyway--or a cheap black-market hooker for at least an hour during lunch (someday, you guys--you'll 'get there').

What they did was as much bullshit as half that last paragraph--not the way you do business, and really inappropriate.  After they got their 'February' payment, and mine continued, now direct to them, they thought they could get away without ever hearing me mention 'getting help on' the septic tank again (what a wimp, right--I mean, come on, this place could be rented for well over $1000/mo. to anybody with it, and they could lose this little ridiculous complaining pimp [me] and get on with business)...

Nope, not at all, like I said, there wasn't a single system in the place that had been inspected when it was built, so there's something to be said for leaving well enough alone, all parties considered.

So, here, in this blog, for the record, in addition to mine,

Now, instead of living like a dog, I've taken care of the place, repaired and maintained it (in fixing the furnace, electrical issues, and tons of other stuff); making it a home instead of a keep (the last couple had been satisfied with less), and even lived in the place. The Orkin man gets rid of any bugs, and domesticated the local barn cats to remove any rodents, if any ever show up.

Finally--for anyone nice enough to read through this lonely little rant--here is the best online resource for learning about septic tank systems, which I found online in my own research, and which proved to be an honest and helpful guide in leading me to every correct diagnosis a noob could ever make 'out of the blue' on his own septic tank system without going to school for it.
(Because Country Living has its price, kapish?)


Well, it happened again--2nd time in 14 mos., I had to call the septic tank cleaning specialist to come over, clean the tank, and try to get some advice on how to keep it from backing up annually.

Rick (Rick's Septic Tank Cleaning) finally got his head around the problem (it was apparently a rare, weird, doozy) enough to pinpoint the problem at the rear drain pipe--specifically, its diameter and height.  It is only 2" in diameter (even I could see this, standing above it), while the front 'line' (coming from the house to the front of this tank) is 4".

The rear line takes 'liquid' (more like diarrhea) refuse down to the 'wet field' (to dry), but needs to be a little lower than the 'front line' (and so, the overall level of the 'stuff'), to keep leaving room for more coming in the front.

That's as basic as I can make this situation--Rick even voiced his opinion that he suspects the tank was installed backwards, a mistake I guess anyone could make, unless they were using qualified pro's to install one of the most important systems in their entire house.

A septic tank can literally 'make-or-break' your house's value; it either works, or doesn't.  If it doesn't, you're going to get sick, and there's a big possibility that your house will begin having black mold problems, too, when backups aren't dried ASAP (and 'backups' are never small amts, or anything close to hygienic--they're filthy).

I might have been financially prepared for this, if it hadn't happened so soon.  Rick even mentioned the first time that it would need the standard cleaning every three years or so, along with his other advice (he's been pretty helpful throughout my ordeal here).

But--14 months--I wasn't ready, and my girlfriend helped me by paying the entire amount.

I owe her big--this time around, it was worse--I couldn't even use the toilet, or any spigot, up or downstairs, without stuff coming up the drain of the downstairs tub, and from around the base of that toilet, too.  I went through 10-15 towels trying to dry it up...and when you do this, there's no way to wash the towels, so you either have to find a place to wash the nasty stuff, or lose it.

Here's the 2nd receipt:
Rick has written the problems on the bill, so I don't keep getting blamed for the pre-existing problem with this septic system.

LAST TIME, although threatened with eviction, I kept back the repair fee from my monthly rent, and sweated it out while I waited to be evicted.

This time, I emailed the same corporate owners, saying:

Wanna make it clear I am paying the full amt for my December rent, but have had to get the septic tank cleaned once more.
The repairman made it clear this system was not installed correctly, leaving the 'rear line' too small (and high) to clear off liquid waste down into the nearby 'wet field'.
Again, this is just a note: there won't be any surprises from me next month--I plan on paying my full $450 monthly rent then.
Mike Denney
1671 Morgantown Road
So, once again, I'm left holding somebody else's shit-bag.  The guy who 'shepherded' me into renting this place acted like he's doing me such a big favor, then backed out of every opportunity to be honest and tell the current owners that I was right when this, and multiple other, issues came up.

Over my 2-year stay here, I have been personally responsible for repairing:

  • the HVAC system (both fan motors--I paid $270 for both fans, installed them myself)
  • the A/C system (it's leaking--twice filled at a cost to me personally of over $300)
  • this septic system (the first time, I withheld $250 from my rent payment...this time...?)
  • much, much more (too many for even a frikking BLOG!)
One last note: the guy who told me about the place fast-talked me into renting here; he was full of assurances that I'd 'like it', about how the 'current owners' were 'nice people', and he was sure 'they'd help me out anytime I needed help'.